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Mr. Jones Is Back : After overwork and divorce, Quincy Jones releases his first album in eight years

November 19, 1989|PAUL GREIN

The spring of 1986 should have been the best time in Quincy Jones' life.

The veteran producer had just won three Grammy Awards for supervising the mega-hit "We Are the World" and was set to head back into the studio with Michael Jackson to record their follow-up to "Thriller," the best-selling album of all time.

Barbra Streisand and Lionel Richie were eager to have Jones produce their next albums too, and film studios were calling in the wake of Jones' success with "The Color Purple"--which he both scored and co-produced.

But Jones' memories of that period are anything but happy. His 12-year marriage to actress Peggy Lipton was crumbling, his mother-in-law was dying of cancer, and he was suffering from exhaustion and overwork.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 3, 1989 Home Edition Calendar Page 99 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Paul Grein's Nov. 19 article on composer Quincy Jones mentioned the Emmy that Jones won for "Roots" but did not say that the 1977 award for that landmark miniseries was shared by composer Gerald Fried.

"At one point, I was experiencing about seven of the Top 10 stress factors," the 56-year-old Jones said.

"It all hit in such a strange way," he said, sitting in the living room of his Bel-Air home. "We had overworked on 'The Color Purple,' so I had blown my adrenal system. I was exhausted. And when you go through a divorce and get thrown out of your house, you lose all those symbols of your well being. When you have that many things pulling you apart, you have to change things around and take control of your life."

Jones' first step was to postpone all work projects. His second was to go off, alone, to Tahiti, where he spent a month trying to sort things out.

"I stayed for 31 days," he said. "It was the most heavy 31 days I ever had in my life. I went all the way down. I was just wandering from island to island. I was really in trouble. I meditated four or five hours a day, went all the way inside to get it together. What I wanted more than anything else was to get a real serious spiritual connection going again, and that's what happened. I had to take my control of my life for the the first time."

The breakdown and recuperation left Jones feeling stronger than ever.

"It feels like the best thing that ever happened to me," said Jones, whose first album in eight years, "Back on the Block," will be released on Tuesday(11/21) (see review, Page 97). "With so much success and everything else zooming all around you, sometimes you need God to just slap you and say, 'Let's take a look and see what's going on here.' It's like when I had the brain operation."

The reference was to Jones' two near-fatal 1974 neural aneurysms, which he has long credited with putting his life in perspective.

Of the 1986 breakdown, Jones said finally: "It really woke me up and give me a lot of wisdom that I think will last me for a long time. I have a happiness and inner peace I've never known before."

Things always seem to work out for the best for Quincy Jones.

The Seattle native, who is beginning his fifth decade in the music business, has had a charmed career.

He evolved from his '60s role as the pre-eminent black producer/arranger/composer--he was the first black vice president of a major pop record company, and the first black musician to reach the top rung of film scorers--to his current standing as the most successful and most highly regarded music producer of the 1980s.

He produced the decade's best-selling album ("Thriller") and best-selling single ("We Are the World"). He's the only person to twice win the Grammy for producer of the year. And Jones is the only contemporary figure known primarily as a producer whose own albums consistently become best sellers.

Jones' last album, "The Dude," reached the Top 10 and was nominated for a Grammy as the best album of 1981. Expectations are high for the new collection and its first single, a soulful remake by Ray Charles and Chaka Khan of the Brothers Johnson's 1976 smash "I'll Be Good to You." (Jones also produced the Brothers' original version.)

Even Jones' one conspicuous flop--the 1978 film version of the musical "The Wiz"--had a big silver lining. The experience gave Jones a chance to work for the first time with Michael Jackson--who was just then starting to look for a producer for his first solo album as an adult star. Jones got the job and went on to produce Jackson's next three albums, which have sold a combined total of 70 million copies worldwide.

A quick glance around Jones' music room suggests the level of esteem in which he is held in the music business.

There are the awards: an Emmy for the landmark TV miniseries "Roots," which he scored, and a National Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

There are the photos of Jones with a few famous friends: Spielberg . . . Streisand . . . Richie . . . Pryor.

And, most dramatically, there's a framed copy of the sheet music for "We Are the World" that was autographed by most of the all-star cast that Jones assembled that night four years ago.

"Thanks for all the great records," wrote Bob Dylan. "No one else in the world could have pulled this off," said Kenny Rogers. "Thanks for a wonderful memory," wrote Bette Midler.

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